I let go of toxic relationships and learned an important lesson about self-love

Shelby Sells

September is always a whirlwind of adventure for me. My birthday, Fashion Week, and the beginning of school are all on the docket—all causes for celebration. As I sit and reflect on the last month, I am reminded that love is available in so many forms. It’s important to soak up as much of it as I can when I can. I am eternally grateful for the abundance of love that presents itself in my life. My heart bursts with joy knowing I am loved, lovable, and loving in return. 

A constant theme for me over the past few months has been letting go of toxic relationships, whether they’re work-related, romantic, platonic, or familial. This year has brought about more change than I could’ve ever imagined. Again, I am grateful, but it doesn’t come without personal cost. Outgrowing people in your life is never easy. Earlier this year I lost contact with a best friend of almost 10 years, a man I’d been seeing on and off for two years, and my father. All of these relationships are extremely important to me, but unfortunately they had become dysfunctional in a way that was emotionally toxic for me.

Grieving is an understatement in terms of the loss, sadness, and pain I’ve endured in releasing these people from my life.

As someone who fights for the people she loves, it didn’t make any sense to me why we couldn’t work things out.

I’m not an unreasonable person, and while I’m not perfect either, I’m committed to the people I care about. Ultimately, I was the person who had to draw hard boundaries with these individuals, which meant cutting off all forms of communication. Not my ideal resolution. 

At first it was hard for me not to take things personally. I felt rejected and abandoned by the ones I loved most. It stirred up feelings of worthlessness, like I wasn’t good enough for them—people I had sacrificed large parts of myself for. (Pro tip: Love is not self-sacrificial. Love is patient, love is kind. Love is building each other up, reciprocating equal energy, and working through rough patches with mutual trust and respect.) 

The common theme in these relationships was emotional withholding, a common type of gaslighting. The truly heinous thing about gaslighting is that you always hear about it, but when it actually happens, it’s like getting the carpet ripped out from under you. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemies (not that I have any, but you get the point). Withholding love is a form of emotional abuse. When someone we love doesn’t reciprocate out of anger or need to manipulate as a means of control it’s a lose-lose situation. This conditional form of love typically comes from fear of loss and deep feelings of unworthiness from the gaslighter (i.e. I-will-push-you-away-and-then-blame-you-for-leaving type of madness.) 

When people like this leave our lives, the void is real. Much like hunger pains are relieved when we eat, we feel better, but imagine eating something you are allergic to versus something healthy. We must keep filling ourselves with the good things! Once in a while we eat or drink something that makes us physically sick, and the same thing happens on an emotional level. It is essential to feed our hearts with healthy love that inspires us to be the best versions of ourselves possible.

Shifting my perspective has brought me great peace.

Instead of pitying myself, asking “Why me?”, I was challenged by a colleague to evaluate what my life is like now without the constant toxicity.

A sense of freedom washed over me. My life has improved so much since separating myself from these three men. I could cry from the relief I feel not being held emotionally hostage anymore. For the first time in a long time I feel genuinely loved, supported, and uplifted by the people around me. Community is the word that keeps popping up over and over again—a community I created for myself. I’m right where I’m supposed to be and I belong.  

It feels like I’m reaching a culmination in my healing journey. I feel grounded, balanced. More than anything I feel secure, maybe for the first time ever in my life. Do you know how cool that is? Prioritizing my mental and emotional health has made such a positive impact on my relationships, and it shows. 

September was filled with more love than I know what to do with. So many friends and colleagues visited New York City, and I cherished the opportunity to connect and spend quality time with them. Through these connections, new friendships have been birthed, making my network of badass individuals vast and international. My birthday was the best one I’ve had in years. Usually my birthday is very triggering for me (especially now that I’m approaching 30!), but the anxiety and self-deprecating thoughts that sometimes pop-up ceased to exist. Instead, I embrace the present and am thankful for where I’m at and where I’m going. The possibilities are endless.

I’ve been consciously laying down the groundwork for the type of relationship I want to have with myself and my next romantic partner. In that, a confidence has begun to grow inside me—a confidence that hasn’t gone unnoticed. Romance is swirling around me, and I’m leaning into the precious moments it provides. My makeout buddy came up to see me before going on a two-month tour. Nothing is sexier than a surprise visit from a lover. And remember the guy I asked out? We have now established a solid friendship, which is pretty awesome. 

A mantra I keep close to me is “What is meant for me will be.” This nourishes my mindfulness and helps me trust in myself and the universe. Why go searching for love when it has been in front of me all along? You can’t force time. There is a sense of calm to experience when you let go of the chaos and embrace who you’re meant to be. In this moment I am hopeful, full, and free.